“Psi-Man Heal my Child!” was originally published in Imaginative Tales in November 1955. It can now be found in Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick on pp. 353–371.
Ed Garby, his wife Barbara, and children (their daughter is dying of bone cancer) leave the commune to see a healer outside of its borders. The guards warn them against this and suggest they see the commune doctors. Ed, however, fears the commune doctors will simply experiment on her and discard her. Passing an abandoned city, they think about the long history of healers and mystics who have helped people throughout the ages. They arrive at the camp and realize they will need to wait in line.
The Talents—working collectively at a guild—are receiving various visitors to make use of their various abilities. Porter is a precog who can see six months into the future. He provides honest accounts of what he can see in people’s future. Stephens can read minds. Doris can move objects. Jack is able to time travel and he is using his ability to prevent the war by speaking to a military commander, General Ernest Butterford. Thelma is a psychic healer (who among other cases just finished with the Garby’s child, but will need to see her again in a week).
Jack goes back in time again to visit Butterford, this time showing him his bones, trying to prove to him that the war will cause destruction of all civilization as well as his own life. Butterford responds with disbelief at Jack’s psionic powers and the typical Cold War-era argument that peace comes through strength and war if preferable to backing down.
Back at the guild, the Talents are discussing their role in this post-apocalyptic world. Some are content with the good work they are performing helping individual with personal advice and healing. Jack responds that this is what they have been doing for thousands of years as witches and sibyls. They still have not been able to enter civilization directly and help them. Jack thinks that they can use their abilities to actually start rebuilding civilization. Jack is growing impatient. He goes back in time to try to change things, but also believes that they should pursue direct ruling of humanity. Stephen has a different point of view. Ruling them would be like running a zoo for a dying species. They will die out soon leaving the Talents behind. Better to let them be, put begin to reclaim the planet for those with the abilities.
The four other members of the Guild kill Jack, after Stephens’ power reveals that he is going to attempt to murder him. They are still divided over their future role with the remaining human settlements. Some want to join the communes and help them. Others wants to dominate them. Porters looks ahead and tells them that the waiting at the gates to be allowed into the communes will soon end.
The Garbys starts to leave the commune for his second visit to the healer. The guards tell them that due to a new policy, no one who leaves the commune will be allowed back in. Ed decides to move out with his family, committing them to a life on the outside. They notice that they are not alone and many others are choosing to venture out. Barbara guesses that only the leaders will stay behind as the people start to build a life outside the walls.
“Psi-Man Heal My Child!” is yet another example in Philip K. Dick’s early stories on the relationship between the posthumans and the humans. I am starting to think that these stories should be anthologized and interpreted together because we see almost every possible relationship. Posthumans can be pariahs. They can be malevolent. They can try to dominate humanity. They can work peacefully with humans. “Psi-Man Heal my Child!” gives us the most detailed examination of a debate among the posthumans over what their role should be. There seem to be four major positions. The first is that the posthumans should dominate humanity, planning for their eventual domination over the planet. Their rule may be benevolent or not, but however you slice it, the world is theirs to inherit and it is simply silly to suggest coexistence can work. The second opinion is that posthumans should remain outside of human society, interacting slightly with them. They will be like gypsies, or carnival psychics. Providing their talents and skills in exchange for what they need to survive. As far as the story is concerned this is the situation for many thousands of years. Another position is that the posthumans should integrate with the humans and attempt to work from within their society to improve it. Jack, using his ability to try to prevent the war, is giving a fourth possibility. That the posthumans have a moral obligation to use their abilities to fix the world for humanity, without necessarily dominating them or cooperating with them openly. This is the most revolutionary but also the most dangerous. In another story, Dick compared this attitude to that of the Jacobins and Bolsheviks. At the end of the story, with the humans coming out of the communes to begin a bolder reclamation of the planet, it seems that humans and posthumans will end up working together after all, but on the initiative of humanity. Dick never recants from his believe that mutants are a problem, not a savior, but in “Psi-Man Heal my Child!” he shows how they can be used by humanity or even placed as a part of humanity, not a permanent population of outsiders.
We get only a little taste of the situations of the world after the war. People retreated to communes, which are run by the remnants of the military that survived the war. The population is controlled through intense work regiments and indoctrination. Still—and this is a point Dick always wants to remind us of—the people want to escape and often seek help from the Talents Guild living outside of the commune. This flight eventually forces a closing of the border and most still prefer braving the outside than living inside the walls. This desire to flee confinement is an important theme for Dick touching on his views on the need for space exploration and a reopened frontier.
Just in case you are thinking of seeing a faith healer, see this.
*In other words wait until the real posthumans show up.